Tyrann Mathieu: Combine Performance Shows Honey Badger Worth Risk in NFL Draft

Ben Chodos@bchodosCorrespondent IIFebruary 26, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 26: Tyrann Mathieu of Louisiana State University looks on during the 2013 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 26, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

If not for Manti Te’o and Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, former Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu may have been the most polarizing prospect at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine. But after a brief break from the media’s focus, the defensive back is again attracting attention for his excellent workout.

Mathieu—who ESPN notes was dismissed from LSU’s football team prior to the 2012 season for “repeated violations of LSU's substance abuse policy for athletes”—ran the 40-yard dash in an official time of 4.5 seconds. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the results from a few of the draft class’ top DBs: 

In the position-specific drills, Mathieu also earned positive reviews, with Yahoo Sports’ Doug Farrar writing: 

He also looked smooth in the backpedal drills, turning and running quickly. In the longer rotation/catch drill, Mathieu stayed low to the ground, rotated well, and was confident enough in his ability to run to the spot of the throw to high-point both catches.

The talented corner showed the speed and agility that allowed him to be one of college football’s premier players in 2011, but he still has plenty of questions to answer.

He posted just four reps in the bench press, and getting kicked off the football team just over six months ago is still the elephant in the room.

But a quick review of the game tape from Mathieu’s final season with the Tigers will remind NFL scouts that the Honey Badger is a truly intriguing prospect. 

In order to earn a trip to New York two seasons ago, he had two interceptions, six forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. Two of those recoveries were returned for touchdowns, and Mathieu scored twice on punt returns as well. 

At just 5’9” and 186 pounds, his lack of ideal height and bulk is a concern, but his extraordinary defensive instincts allowed him to dominate in SEC football. He is a natural playmaker, and CBS Sports projects him as a fifth- or sixth-round pick. 

In addition to his nose for the football, he spent time on the outside, in the slot and at safety while in Baton Rouge.

While his impressive showing at the combine gives him a chance to be drafted higher than this, his size and character issues may remain enough of a concern to ensure that he is not taken until very late.

If the fifth round starts and Mathieu is still on the board, he will present incredible value for any team. Players drafted this late often do not even make the final roster as rookies, and they are rarely as talented as the former LSU standout.

Due to his talent and versatility, he has the highest upside of any player projected to be picked on the final day of the draft. He can contribute as a safety, a starting or a nickel corner and on special teams. 

His character issues are certainly worrisome, but if he becomes a late-round pick, it would be difficult to describe them as a risk.

Either he will live up to his potential and become a star in the NFL like he was in college, or he won’t. If the latter is true, the team that drafts him can simply send him back out the door along the same path that many fifth- and sixth-round draft picks have walked.